More Power Scotty!

Many of you have seen my travel with my Yoga 2 Pro laptop and a Gigabyte Brix running Hyper-V with 16GB of RAM and a 240GB msata drive. I use these rigs for demos when traveling and they also provide me with a test domain network. But lately I’ve started feeling some constraints. Even though I run the VMs lean and often use server core, I can’t run as many VMs simultaneously as I would like or at the level they really need.

My current setup

My current Yoga 2 and Brix setup with a Netgear switch

For example, I’m trying to do a bit more with System Center which requires SQL Server, another product I’m delving into more as well, and those servers really need a bit more in terms of resources. I would also like to re-introduce a WSUS server, Sharepoint and Exchange 2013. By my preliminary estimates I need a minimum of 36GB total memory spread among multiple Hyper-V servers. Plenty of disk space as well but that seems to be easy to address. I also want a second Hyper-V server so I can do more with migrations and replications.

So I’ve been considering what I could build to add to my existing setup. I am hoping to have a solution that gives me at least 32GB of RAM to divvy up. My initial thought was to add one or two more Brix units. I could build a new 5th gen i7 with 16GB RAM and a 500GB Samsung EVO drive for about $878. If I double up my investment is $1756. That’s not too bad.

I considered going the laptop route, perhaps by adding a new Lenovo what supports 32GB of RAM. That seems to start pushing the price up.

I’m also considering making a quantum leap of sorts into a server class motherboard like the Supermicro X10SDV-F-O Intel Xeon D-1540. Pricy for sure, but I could start with 32GB of RAM for around $300 and there is lots of room for storage. I’ve spec’d out a build at just around $2000. What I like is that I can cram everything into a mini-ITX form factor.

I’m finding plenty of pros and cons for all my options and haven’t made a final decisions yet. I’m certainly open to suggestions and feedback.  I realize whatever route I go will entail some packing changes should I need to travel with everything. My backpack is getting a bit heavy as it is already. But I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

For now I’ll have to decide which investment makes the best long term sense.

My Mobile Training and Presentation Setup

IMG_6530 As many of you know, I typically travel with a mobile Hyper-V setup using a mini-server housed in a Gigabyte Brix unit. I also have a brand new Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, which I’ve also written about. During the recent PowerShell Summit my intent was to use this gear during my presentations and demos. Sadly, I forgot the power cord to my Brix. Fortunately, Don Jones was inspired by my setup to build one of his own so I was a able to borrow his power cord for my second demonstration. But then this roller coaster brought me back down as I couldn’t get network connectivity to work using an old 4 port switch. I ended up re-working demos to do everything on my Yoga 2 Pro, which wasn’t too bad since it has 8GB of RAM. But I really wanted the additional virtual machines.

When I returned home I decided the switch was the core of my problems and needed something that my laptop would recognize as a valid network device, even if it was the first device plugged in. I found a Netgear ProSafe Plus 4 port (GS105E) switch from my local Staples. Love it. I plugged my Yoga 2 Pro in, I bought a USB3 ethernet dongle, and right away Windows said I had a 1GB network connection, albeit without Internet which was fine since I don’t rely on the Internet for my demos or training. I plugged in the Brix, fired it up and it just worked. That’s all I ever wanted: plug it in and work.

Here’s my setup, plugged in and working just as it would be at a conference or training site.

brix-lenovo-netgrear

For the record, I have a USB 3 Toshiba drive plugged into the Brix that holds ISOs, backups and other large, static files. I have a USB 3 hub and another Toshiba USB 3 drive for my Yoga 2 Pro, although right now I don’t need that as part of my demo/training setup. The mouse is a Logitech Bluetooth mouse that is compact and just works. I tried other Bluetooth mice with varying degrees of success. I also like that the mouse gets like an hour of run time even when charged via USB for literally one minute. Very happy to finally have a setup I can rely on. I’m looking forward to trying it out next week while I am on the road.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

The Ultrabook Quest is Ended

Over the last several weeks I’ve been researching, thinking and mulling over a decision for a new laptop. In short, I was looking for something smaller in the ultrabook form factor that could still run a few Hyper-V virtual machines. In the end I decided to compromise and ended up with a Yoga Pro 2 from Lenovo.

yoga-box

I went with the i7-4500 1.8Ghz CPU with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. I also went with the Clementine model because I liked the color and I live in the Syracuse, NY area where Orange is king.

yoga-clementine

This wasn’t a perfect choice. The model has 1 USB 3 and 1 USB 2 port. There is also no ethernet port and since I plan on hooking this up to a small switch when I train or present, I needed some peripherals. So I also ordered a SIIG 7 port USB hub and an USB/Ethernet adapter.

yoga-peripherals

I wanted a USB hub with external power so I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of juice to drive an external drive or two. I haven’t decided yet how it will work out but I might end up using the hub on my Brix Hyper-V box.

The ethernet adapter is for USB 3, but I’m plugging it into the USB 2 port and it has no problem getting to 1 gig. I can live with that. The wifi that is included in the Yoga 2 Pro is only single band. So I spent about $40 and ordered the dual band version. This necessitated removing the bottom which was a bit tricky.

You’ll need a small torx or tiny flat-head screwdriver. I used a credit card to slide between the bottom and the body. It took a bit of work and wiggling all the way around. The bottom is also affixed with some sticky tape so there is a little resistance.

inside

I’m not expecting to upgrade the SSD anytime soon. RAM is soldered on so there’s no upgrade there. But I did replace the WiFi. The tricky part is getting the antennae snapped back into place.

wifi

If you can find someone with small, yet strong, hands see if they can do this for you. Oh, it also helps to have good eyesight. But once connected I got much better throughput.

I’ve been trying out the different stances the Yoga can take.

tent

After some reconsideration I realized I could take advantage of the flexibility. I can see it useful when watching movies while traveling. Or putting it into tablet mode and watching training courses from Pluralsight while exercising. This is a touch screen model, although I’m still not sold on making that the only way I use the device. For one, I can’t stand the fingerprints on the screen.

I left the default install alone, although I did run Windows Update and update drivers. My primary use will be via a native boot from VHD. I copied over an existing VHD and it booted up, found the new hardware and so far works like a champ.

The screen resolution is both amazing and frustrating. Because it is so high, 3200×1800, font sizes are super tiny. So I’ve had to experiment. Right now, I’m running it at 2048×1152. The Yoga 2 has a micro-hdmi video port so I’ll still need to buy some adapters so I can hook this up to different projector connections. If anyone knows of a kit or bundle with a variety of adapters, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ve done some typing on the device and while ok, it isn’t something I would want to spend all day working on. But since it is going to be primarily my travel device (for now) I don’t mind. The touchpad seems a little quirky and I might dig out an old bluetooth mouse and hook that up.

I will be traveling next week so I’m looking forward to seeing if I made a good decision. If the Yoga Pro 2 came with 2 USB 3 ports, dual band WiFi, and a better video connector I don’t think I would have hesitated. I would even have spent a bit more. Even so, I showed it to my wife who immediately said she wanted one as well.

As I gather more experiences, I’ll share them with you. Thanks to everyone who chimed in on my quest.

The Ultrabook Quest Continues

I’ve been continuing my research and deliberations over a new laptop, and am still leaning towards the ultrabook form factor. As to be expected there is no perfect, no-brainer solution, at least for me. What I have been able to do is prioritize the features I need.

Since my primary need is for a presentation machine I can use in conjunction with my Brix Hyper-V server, 8GB or RAM is sufficient. I still plan on running a VM or two on the laptop so I know I want the most horsepower I can get which for me means an SSD drive and most likely a 4th generation i7. That’s the easy part.

Since I only purchase equipment like this every 3-4 years I try to future proof as much as I can. Looking forward I would say USB3 and 802.11AC should be important considerations.

Here is a table I’ve been using to organize my research. At this point I’d say these are the front runners.

Model: ASUS Zenbook UX301LA-XH72T
RAM: 8
HDD: 2×256 RAID 0
Display: 13.3? Quad HD IPS Display (2560 x 1440)
USB 3 Ports: 2
Mini Display: yes
HDMI: yes
WiFi: 802.11AC
Weight: 2.60
Comments: great accessories
Price: $2,200.00

Model: HP Spectre 13t-3000
RAM: 8
HDD: 256
Display: 13.3-inch diagonal Vivid QHD Infinity LED-backlit Display (2560×1440) Touchscreen
USB 3 Ports: 2
Mini Display: yes
HDMI: yes
WiFi: 802.11AC
Weight: 3.30
Comments: inlcudes adapters. Beats Audio. Box 50GB lifetime
Price: $1,500.00

Model: X1 Carbon
RAM: 8
HDD: 256
Display: 14.0″ QHD (2560×1440) IPS
USB 3 Ports: 2
Mini Display: yes
HDMI: yes
WiFi: Intel Dual Band Wireless 7260AC with Bluetooth 4.0
Weight: 2.83
Comments: 512GB SSD is an option. Fast recharge. Battery could be an issue
Price: $2,029.00

Model: Yoga 2 Pro
RAM: 8
HDD: 512
Display: 13.3″ QHD+ LED Glossy Multi-touch with integrated camera (3200×1800)
USB 3 Ports: 1
Mini Display: no
HDMI: micro
WiFi: Intel Wireless-N 7260 (802.11bgn) single band
Weight: 3.10
Comments: 1 USB 2 powered. Orange. Wifi could be replaced.
Price: $1,600.00

Model: Thinkpad Yoga
RAM: 8
HDD: 256
Display: Touch & Pen, FHD (1920 x 1080)12.5″ display
USB 3 Ports: 2
Mini Display: no
HDMI: mini
WiFi: Intel Dual Band Wireless 7260A
Weight: 3.50
Comments: one USB3 powered
Price: $1,900.00

Model: Macbook Air 13″
RAM: 8
HDD: 256
Display: 13″ 1440×900
USB 3 Ports: 2
Mini Display: yes
HDMI: no
WiFi: 802.11AC
Weight: 3.00
Comments: 512GB add $300. Adapters extra.
Price: $1,549.00

Model: Macbook Pro with Retina 13″
RAM: 16
HDD: 512
Display: 13″ 2560×1600
USB 3 Ports: 2
Mini Display: yes
HDMI: yes
WiFi: 802.11AC
Weight: 3.50
Comments: adapters extra
Price: $2,200.00

I love the SSD RAID0 option on the Zenbook. If the Yoga 2 had 2 USB3 ports that would have been a game changer for me. But it is still in the running. I’ve even considered going the MacBook route and running Windows 8 either in BootCamp or natively, although I suspect the process is more complicated than I want to get into. Still, you can’t deny the appeal of the hardware. Overall, it would seem the HP Spectre has a slight edge for my money.

Is there anything missing you think I should seriously consider? Anything here you think I should run away from?

My Ultrabook Quest

computereyeWorking for myself, I try to keep major expenses to a minimum. Computer equipment falls into that category. But the time has come to refresh my laptop. And since many of you buy and support hardware I thought I’d turn to you for suggestions. I have some requirements and something of a short list but am open to suggestions.

Right now, I use a Toshiba Qosmio when I speak at conferences or train. I originally bought it for the horsepower to run all of the virtual machines I typically need. But it is a beast to travel with. I also have an old Lenovo Netbook which I originally loved. But it was never designed for Windows 8 and is beginning to feel underpowered. Since I’ve started using a Brix for my Hyper-V server I think I can travel much lighter now.

So I am looking for something in the Ultrabook form factor with a 4th generation i7, a decent size SSD and at least 8GB of RAM so that I can also run a few VMs. I need something with a physical keyboard. I tried a Surface and other tablets. Those devices are perfectly fine for consuming content, but I need something to create content. I’m trying to stay in the 13″ screen size with the best resolution I can get. I never used to care about that but this laptop will also need to serve as my traveling entertainment option as well. On top of all of that decent battery life would be a great asset. Something that could get me through a 5 hour cross country flight.

I’ve been looking at the new X1 Carbon, some of the ASUS Zenbooks, a Toshiba Portege and the one of the Lenovo Yoga models. So what would you suggest? What tales of woe or wonder do you have to share? I have a feeling I’m going to have to spend around $2000 to get what I need but naturally would love to save some money if I can.